A Cry Is Just A Cry


Every parent knows the frustration of responding to a baby’s cries. Are they hungry? Wet? In pain? Need a hug? Tired?

According to Dunstan Baby Language, you can interpret these cries with confidence, reducing your stress and making you a better parent. Really?

According to their website:

The Dunstan Baby Language teaches you to hear exactly what your baby is communicating. As a parent, you will be able to interpret your infant’s sounds and cries – and respond to their needs quickly and effectively.

There’s more!

The Dunstan System will teach you how to tune your ear to the 5 ‘words’, take you through settling solutions, and gives helpful advice for parents. You will also view Priscilla Dunstan in a ‘live lesson’, teaching new mothers the System – with immediate results.

It was eight years of research that revealed this system of sounds – the language that is shared by all babies. We trust you will treasure the Dunstan Baby Language as your baby benefits from being is listened to – and truly heard.

Then I saw this Tweet from Christian Jarrett:


Interesting. No peer review research cited. But you can learn all about it for 28 Euros! You can even train to become a teacher for this program.

I wanted to dig deeper, so I found their US patent application (11/477,487) filed by Priscilla Dunstan here.

Here’s their system, hand drawn (I kid you not) in the patent application itself, filed January 3, 2008 {I question whether this patent will be granted}:


And some more detail from the patent application:

[0027] It is sometimes said that babies have different cries for different needs. For reasons explained in the following, however, the present invention is best understood not as differentiating between types of cries, but rather as extract¬ing information, more particular sounds, contained within the cry, and ascribing meanings to those sounds. It has been found useful to think of this information or sound as a word within the cry. That is, using the present invention, one is no longer listening to the whole cry, but listening for the occurrence of a particular sound within a cry. It is believed that these sounds or words, and the differences among them, are the natural physical result of the tensions in various portions of the body that affect oral sounds, and that arise under the respective circumstances peculiar to each of these sounds.

Now my favorite part, as they interpret the baby language:

[0033] Eh” is the second word, and relates to the reflex used by the body to expel air trapped in the upper airways in plain language, a burp. The muscles tightening along the chest cavity make the sound. This causes a small inhalation followed by a slow, consistent and minimal release of air. The speed of exhalation is very slow so when the sound is added to it, it creates an elongated “eeeeeeeeeeeh” sound.

[0034] The third word is “owh”. This is a sudden inhala¬tion followed by an open-mouth slow exhalation (a yawn). Sound is added on the exhalation (as is the case with most of the sound combinations).

[0035] “Eairh” is sound added to a constricted lower stomach. Instead of air traveling from the lower parts of the lungs it arrives from the top, and so comes on faster and more forcefully. The muscles and cramping occurring in the lower intestines create a very long, low but forceful exha¬lation.

[0036] “Heh” is vocalization added to a reflex connected to the skin. This reflex is a reaction to skin perspiration (as a result of the infant being at an uncomfortable temperature) and to irritated or itchy skin, which is felt as an immediate but temporary irritation (and not as a result of persistent conditions like eczema). In this reflex, sound travels in short pulses throughout the body as the reaction of the skin and underlying muscles produces a “heh, heh, heeeeeeh” sound pattern. This sound is all exhalation, starting fast and main¬taining velocity whilst the body wriggles.

[0037] In summary, the opening of the vocal chords during a reflex produces specific sounds that can be classified into reoccurring patterns unique to each reflex. These patterns can be used to translate what the body needs or is doing into a phonetic audio language. This language is primal, invol¬untary and universal to the human species.

[0038] The sounds do not always come out clearly because the baby is not consciously trying to communicate. Rather, the sound is coming out as a result of a reflex and may be mixed with many other sounds as well. The significant sound may get buried amidst crying, especially if the baby has become distressed.

There you go. I hope I didn’t spoil it for those new parents. My opinion is that a cry is just a cry; love your baby with everything you’ve got and all will be OK.


  1. #1 Jeffrey Toney
    May 18, 2011

    Thanks for the Tweet and Retweets!

    @researchdigest Christian Jarrett
    This is priceless @jefftoney digs out the patent application behind the Dunstan Baby System for translating baby cries: http://ow.ly/4X6Xf

  2. #2 Lucy
    May 18, 2011

    That’s hilarious. Especially the diagram. I found that with both my babies, my breasts addressed almost every concern they had. Except a diaper change, of course, but that’s never bothered them to the point of crying. What would be the point of developing different cries, if the solution is almost always the same.

  3. #3 Blake
    May 19, 2011

    Absolutely classic – but they’re probably onto a winner here as there’s little that can disturb you more deeply than hours of yelling by the tiny one.
    As Lucy says about 100 percent of those problems can be cured by breasts so I was never too bothered thankfully but ..
    This is really trying to make a quick buck out of the most scary / precious / vulnerable time in a person’s life (the parent’s life) Its pretty low !

  4. #4 Jeff
    May 19, 2011

    I agree. Nothing like sleep deprivation of a new parent as a vulnerable target – anything for a good night’s sleep! Sadly, such products generate a lot of money. After all, Oprah called this product “Amazing!” Now only if those millions could be used for basic research – real, not pseudo-, science!

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